While Italians are famous for their longevity, Italian cuisine is not known as healthy diet food. With creamy, fat filled pasta sauces and mountains of bread and butter and cheese, the thought of eating out at an Italian restaurant may not fill the healthy dieter with confidence. However, there are plenty of options for those who are interested in a healthy diet.
Cut the Fat
The biggest danger to a healthy diet in Italian restaurants is fat. Garlic bread, a classic starter, is often dripping with butter. It also typically contains large amounts of salt and even, occasionally, cheese. Asking for plain, fresh bread, with olive oil for dipping, or, better yet, a side salad is a far healthier choice. Also, avoid the fried calamari rings, as these can add massive amounts of calories and fat to your meal.
Many entrees are covered in sauces that contain butter, oil, cream and cheese, making them an unhealthy choice. Some of the the worst offenders include Fettuccine Alfredo and lasagna, either of which contain, on average, over 50% of your daily fat allowance in a single serving. Eggplant parmigiana comes in just under them, although it can be improved by asking for less cheese. When choosing your entrees, the tomato and red clam sauces are usually lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber.
Plenty of Vegetables
Italian food can be a good source of the different nutritional benefits found in vegetables. Tomatoes, particularly when cooked, provide the cancer fighting antioxidant lycopene, and are used in many Italian dishes, particularly in soups and sauces. Olive oil is also a traditional component of many Italian meals, and is a source of monounsaturated fats which can reduce heart disease. Eggplant, also a traditional food, contains potassium and folic acid, and also has cancer fighting properties (although it can also contain large amounts of oil if fried).
Soups can be excellent choices in Italian restaurants. Look for soups made from broth or stocks, with plenty of vegetables, beans, lentils and pasta. Beware of soups that include cheese and eggs (such as stracciatella) or cream or sausage. If necessary, ask for a small bowl of soup or a side salad or bowl of vegetables to add nutrition to your meal.
Choosing Better Alternatives
Italian cuisine focuses on seafood and chicken, both of which are healthy choices, particularly if grilled, rather than fried. Ask for them without breading or cheese. As a bonus, often a meat dish without pasta is served with extra vegetables (ask for them in lemon rather than butter or oil).
While those rich, creamy or meaty pasta sauces may be too tempting to miss altogether, ask for them served to the side so you can control how much you eat. If you can’t resist the pizza, ask for a thin crust, with no cheese and extra vegetables. For dessert try the fruit sorbet or melon slices, or a cappuchino with biscotti.
Italian restaurants need not be missed by those on a healthy diet. With a few adjustments, every meal can be nutritious and fit into a healthy eating out plan.